How to Use this Blog

This blog is designed to be used like a cookbook. I've put tags on each recipe so you can go to the section on that topic just by clicking on the word in the cloud or the list. Some recipes are under more than one category to help you find what you're looking for.

Friday, December 31, 2010

Chocolate Pie on Steroids

I love to cook mostly because I love to eat.  I started adding a little oomph to my chocolate pie:

Take a chocolate pudding mix, the kind you have to cook over the stove.  When you've heated the pudding and declared it done then you add about a cup of dark chocolate chips.  Keep stirring until the chips have melted.  Add a Tablespoon of vanilla in honor of great grandfather Els.  You might take an electric mixer to whip it up good.  Refrigerate until it sets then top with Cool Whip (to keep the calorie count down, dontcha know.)  Actually, you could make this into a simple pudding and skip the pie crust.  The crust adds more calories than the filling usually.

Hummus and/or Black Eyed Peas

I finally succeeded at making hummus.  It's not really hard to do.  I put a can of chick peas in the blender and added garlic, salt and lemon juice then drizzled some olive oil until it was the right taste and consistency.  It was good enough to pass the taste test for a party of fellow tree huggers who have eaten a lot of hummus.

This got me to thinking of all the things I could do by blending stuff into a paste-like consistency. Then I remembered the issues we've had in the past with black eyed peas.

Like all good southerners we need our black eyed peas for good luck on New Years Day.  However, our kids don't like them and refuse to eat them.  One year when Elizabeth was in her teens Beaven practically wrestled her to the ground in an attempt to press one single pea past her clenched teeth.  No luck all around that year.

Poor old blackeyed peas.  They're not known for their taste and their consistency is a but "off" at times.  Some people make a dip out of them called Texas Caviar but it makes it's magic by just adding a bunch of garlic. You are still left with the awkward consistency.

So blackeyed pea hummus seemed like the perfect candidate for my vision.  I just used the blackeyed peas in place of the chcik peas.  While neither pea has much of a taste this new kind was clearly not your grandmother's hummus.  So I started thinking of southwestern flavors I could introduce.  I added a touch more garlic, some cummin and springs of cilantro.  This worked in the taste department but turned the "hummus" slightly green. It was jusgt green enough to look suspicious but not green enough to actually be what anyone would declare "green."

And that is where my research stopped. 

I invite you to try this idea and add your own touches.  Let me know what works.  But hurry, I've only got one day to get a couple of peas' worth into stomachs around here. With a couple of diseases and a divorce in 2010 our family needs better luck in 2011.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Dressing

Making dressing for Thanksgiving and Christmas is a lot easier than you think, especially when you don't put complicated stuff in it.  Some people put weird things like oysters, nuts, apples or stuff like that.  I'm somewhat of a purist and a lazy one, at that.  I don't even put miscellaneous turkey parts like livers or such. About the only thing in my dressing is celery, onions, sage and chicken broth. And cornbread.

Make a pan or two of cornbread.  Two feeds about 8-10 people as a side dish.  I use the packaged cornbread mix. For two packages you'll need 1 1/3 cups of milk and 2eggs.  You can make it way ahead of time and freeze it for later.

Crumble up the cornbread and add a few slices of toast. The bread will soften and complement the texture of the cornbread.  Chop a whole onion then about the same amount of celery. Add salt and pepper then a couple of tablespoons of either poultry seasoning or sage. Start adding chicken broth and stir it all up.  Taste.  Add whatever it needs.  Taste.

My step-mother had a best friend whose family we always shared Thanksiving with.  Lois claimed she couldn't make dressing without Martha to help her taste her way through the process.  And considering that Lois was actually a horrible cook and dressing was about the only thing she made well, I was always grateful for Martha's help. This taught me how much fun communal cooking can be.  It always helps to have a second opinion from somebody you feel free to ignore if you choose.  I've tried to do this with my daughters with mixed success.  They have trouble tasting dressing before it's cooked--even though everything in the dressing is fully cooked already.  I find this a bit odd since they have absolutely no qualms about cookie dough which we all know is full of salmonella-ladened raw eggs.

You can cook it before the dinner and re-heat it later.  It's all already cooked so I don't stress out over how long or how hot.  Our family is used to the crusty texture of the top with the smooth insides. Cooking it in the oven is the only way to achieve this.

If you're into numbers and times cook it at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.  The main thing is to heat it enough to soften the onions and celery and to bring out the flavor of the spices.

Now, a word about the logistics of big meals:

Ovens really get run through their paces on Christmas or Thanksgiving. Timing is everything.  Don't be afraid to write it all out on a timetable.  You want to avoid trying cook the macaroni and cheese while the turkey is still cooking.  I've learned that crock pots and roasters are great for keeping things hot when the oven is being used for something else like the mac and cheese.  You can keep the gravy warm in the crock pot.  Mashed potatoes, too.

Assemble it all.  Call the family to dinner.  Put the rolls in the oven.  By the time you get everyone to the table the rolls will have had their ten minutes to cook.  At the sound of "amen" the rolls will be ready. You might want to hold hands during the prayer.  This keeps children from grabbing food. 

Make sure you make the pies the day before. They are one food group that will actually get better if they sit for a day.  But you'll need some dire threat to keep folks from sneaking a piece before dinner.  Maybe God's wrath or taking presents back to the store.

Peace on Earth, Good Will to All.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Chocolate Chip Cookies

Everybody needs on recipe they can depend on, a signature dish, so to speak.  This is my most trusted cookie recipe and it comes with a fabulous story that will explain why it's so good.

When I was working at the Presbyterian Disaster Assistance camp in Mississippi in December of 2006 we shared the camp with a famiy from California.  In lieu of their traditional ski trip that year, their Christmas present to themselves was to help with the rebuilding from Katrina. The father was a fireman, they had two teenaged sons and the mom was one of those ladies who I could tell spent a lot of time cooking. I would bet money she was the PTA president.

For dessert one night Susan looked through the pantry of the kitchen to take stock of what was available.  She had a basic chocolate chip cookie recipe she had used so many times that she carried it around in her head.  She told me she could substitute a lot of ingredients if she needed to as long as she kept the same basic proportions. 

That was the day she discovered a secret ingredient I have always used in this cookie, an ingredient no one ever guesses and one that adds a certain "something" that makes all the difference in the world.  The ingredient?  One staple all the PDA camps had on hand:  Raisin Bran cereal. 

I have changed only one thing in the recipe Susan Schwaiger gave me that day.  Instead of Raisin Bran cereal I use plain Bran cereal because I hate raisins.  You can put them in your cookies.  I don't care what you do with your own cookies.

PDA Cookies

Preheat the oven to 325 or 350 degrees

1 cup of butter (2 sticks) set out to soften
1 cup sugar
1 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
2 Tablespoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder

cream the butter and add the rest mixing well

This is the basis.  You can get creative as you go along.  I would stay with the flour and oatmeal but from then on you can do what you want as long as you keep the same number of cups of "stuff".  I personally don't mess with  these ingredients here since they've never failed me.

2 cups flour
2 cups oatmeal
2 cups bran flakes
1 cup chocolate chips
1 cups chopped pecans

I have a cookie/ small ice cream scoop I got at Walmart.  It looks like it holds a Tablespoon.  I scoop out the cookie dough with that and this recipe will make exactly six dozen cookies using the scoop.

Watch the oven.  Sometimes it takes longer than 8 minutes, sometimes less.

If you use Mexican vanilla it really makes a difference.  The easiest way to buy Mexican vanilla is to go on a mission trip over the summer and buy some while you're there.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Party Mix

The recipe for this is actually on any box of Wheat Chex cereal.  Christmas is the only time of year I buy this cereal and I really do wonder if anyone eats it as a cereal anymore.  I've adapted the recipe for my own personal tastes.  I've eliminated the Corn Chex, for instance, because I thought was a bland mix with all those chex in there.  Instead I added more nuts.  Less pretzels and more Goldfish snacks.  I also took the same ingredients for the sauce that gives it its flavor and added/subtracted.  Do your own improvisation.  Just keep the same mixture of sauce to snacks:

Sauce:
stick of butter melted in a sauce pan
3 Tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoons seasoned salt
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 Tablespoon Liquid Smoke
combine all this.

Then gather 12 cups of stuff and put it in a BIG roasting pan.  I use the turkey roaster. It doesn't matter what you use as long as you keep to the 12 cups proportions:

3cups of Wheat Chex
3 cups nuts (I use cashews)
3 cups of more nuts (pecans)
small package of Goldfish crackers

pour the sauce over this, mixing well.  It will be soggy.  Put the roasting pan in the oven at a low temperature.  200-250 degrees.

Sir every 15 minutes or so.  When it's dry you can add some sweet stuff like honey roasted peanuts.  This kind of balances the flavor.

I've found this to be great for parties but also a great gift you can mail.  Put in a big ziplock bag and it won't need too much cushioning material to get it safely across the US in a couple of days.

Green Bean Casserole

This is the Most dependable dish at any pot luck supper you'll ever go to. I would wager that there has not been a church dinner in the last forty years without a Green Bean Casserole.  Maybe at an Episcopal Church.  Lord knows what they do at their suppers. I understand they drink a lot.


one or two cans of green beans, drained (or not)
can of cream of mushroom soup
can of French's fried onion rings

Mix the soup and beans.  Top with onion rings
cook uncovered at about 300-350 for a while (30 minutes?  who knows)

The genius of this recipe isn't how tasty it is but how easy it is to throw together on the fly.  You could keep the cans in your car for times you're surprised to find yourself a guest at a pot luck supper that you forgot to plan for.

Scalloped Potatoes

This will make enough for a 9X13 pan.  Be smart and buy the disposable pans for this.  Saves the cleanup in the kitchen and you won't lose a pan.  Our church kitchen is full of orphaned casserole dishes. If we opened a store and sold all the lost kitchen casserole dishes we could probably cover the church budget for an entire year.

preheat oven to 350 degrees

1 cup chopped onion (2 medium)
2 cloves garlic minced
4 Tablespoons butter
4 Tablespoons flour
 dash of salt and pepper
2 1/2 cups of milk
1 1/2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
2 pounds of potatoes (6 medium sized potatoes)

grease a 9X13 inch pan or spray with cooking spray

make the sauce:
cook the onion and garlic in the butter in a sauce pan until it's tender  but not brown. Stir in the flour and salt and pepper. Add the milk all at once. Cook and stir over medium heat until thick and bubly.  Add half of  the cheese until it is melted.

While sauce is cooking, peel and thinly slice the potatoes.  Place half the potatoes in the pan.  Cover with half the sauce.  Repeat with the rest of the potatoes and the rest of the sauce.  Finish off the top with the other half of the cheese.  And maybe some panko bread crumbs if you have them. This gives it an extra touch of texture.

Bake covered for about 40 minutes.  Then uncover and bake for another 30 minutes or so until the potatoes are tender.

Don't get all scientist over these measurements and times.  Sometimes it's ready sooner.  Sometimes later. It's supposed to make enough for 8-12 people, depending on how hungry they are or how many other choices they have.

You could also include a few slices of crumbled  cooked bacon. I find it easier to cut the bacon into very fine pieces and fry them in a small pan.  They cook more evenly and you don't have to spend a lot of time crumbling stuff.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Recipes as Hope

I heard this on a video I'm watching on Netflix today.  It's an instant view called "The Meaning of Food"  I'm going to watch it several times to suck the marrow a bit and bring you other words later. 

One short chapter in the video tells the story of women in concentration camps who compiled a book of recipes during their days of starvation.  A quarter loaf of bread per woman was given to them every three days and that was the only food they had.

It also has a section on murderers who are executed and what their last meal was.  If you are about to die, food no longer has a purpose of keeping you alive but of giving you pleasure.
If food is a symbol of love
Then a recipe
passsed on to a unknown future
Is a message of hope.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Gravy

I know gravy.  My mother-in-law taught me gravy and she learned from her own mother-in-law, who learned from her mother who cooked for a living.  Are my credentials clear?

There are two secrets to perfect gravy:  the roux and the stock. Once you understand these two concepts the rest is easy.  

You need a stock that has been separated from it's fat.  To do this I like to let it all settle quietly in the fridge. Then it's easier to skim off the solid fat from the broth.  If you have a full-bodied stock it is gelatinous when completely cooled and thus easy to separate.  But you don't get a stock like that in 15 minutes or even a whole day.   

Obviously I can't do all that on the same day I roast the turkey.  My secret is to stay one turkey ahead --or, at least, a chicken or two.  This Thanksgiving I used chicken stock I had frozen over the last couple of rotisserie chickens I bought for dinner. Nobody knew the difference since there was such an eating frenzy

To get this stock I take the entire left over carcass and roast it at a very low temp (maybe around 250) for about six hours in the original roasting pan with lots of water that mostly covers the bones. You can have about an inch of bones above the water.  The experts try to tell you to boil this mess but you end up with a nasty looking foam that the experts tell you to skim off.  Well, I don't want to spend my day skimming nasty foam.  I've been roasting the carcass in the oven or years and for some reason you don't have the foam when you roast the bones in the oven instead of the stovetop.  You also don't have to babysit it all day.  Putting in the oven lets you forget about it.  You might check a couple of times to make sure it still has enough water.  Eventually the bones will just fall apart into the water.  When you think it's ready (or when you're ready to go to bed),  scoop out the bones and onions, carrots and celery.  Give the bones to the dog.  Strain what's left into a big bowl. You'll get about three or four cups, depending on how much water you put it.   Set the stock in the fridge for a couple of days or so until it gets really firm.  Then you skim off the fat and, voila, you have a dark brown gelatinous stock. 

Once you have a good stock you're ready for the roux. 

To start the roux you melt a chunk of butter then add flour. My mother-in-law always used a whole stick of butter but it was harder to see how much flour she used.  I think she just added it until it looked right. You stir it around until you get a smooth (but not thick) paste then keep stirring until it browns. Then you add the stock. The reason it's in zip lock bags is so you can thaw it faster.  To speed things up you can put the zip lock bag in a pot of hot water.  I think I usually use about three cups.   When it's all combines, heat it to a boil stirring with a wire whisk. It will thicken into the perfect gravy.

Relax.  You don't have to have homemade stock.  If you don't have the golden stuff I made from the bones you can just use the drippings from the pan.  It would probably turn out just fine.  I get compulsive sometimes.

On Friday I cooked the Thanksgiving carcass into stock.  Then a couple of days later skimmed off the fat and put the stock into zip lock bags. Then I froze it for use on Christmas. We'll probably have Christmas at Elizabeth's house and I will be able to make the gravy here in my own kitchen. I can take it to Garland in either a zip-lock bag or a slow-cooker to keep it warm.  My Thanksgiving gravy will never have known her Christmas turkey.  But our lives will be much calmer for the effort.

I can't give dependable amounts.  I learned by watching Beaven's mother and trying it myself.  I'm more of an organic cook than a chemist. Come by my house the next time I make gravy and I'll show you. Give yourself permission to flop a time or two. Don't freak out if and when you mess up.  You just won't have gravy that day. Gravy isn't good for you anyway.